Monday, January 1, 2018

Born Today January 1: Ludovic Halévy


1834-1908

Ludovic Halévy, French writer, playwright and librettist was born on New Year's Day in Paris.  He was the nephew of composer Jacques Fromental Halévy and the writing partner of Henri Meilhac for more than twenty years.  Though his father was a civil servant, he was also a pretty prolific writer of varied genres that included works for the stage; so to say that the younger Halévy was exposed to the world of the theater at an early age would be a bit of an understatement.  As a child, he delighted in performing at home and by his early teens he was a devotee of the theater, helped along by the free entry that he had, owed to family connections.  At the age of 18 (1852), he followed his father into governement service.  No one is exactly sure when Ludovic began to write, it is possible--even highly probable--that he started as a child.  What is known is that he had been writing steadily during his time working for the government; sought and found publication.  By the age of 31 his writing career and demand for his work had grown to the point that he retired from public service altogether; that, and the fact that he had met composer Offenbach some ten years earlier when he was around 21 afforded him this opportunity. He went to work for the musician at his small theater, and wrote libretti and stage scenes for performances there.  One the most well known of his works from the time period is Bat-ta-clan, the name later lent itself to a theater in Paris that became instantly well known due to the horrific terrorist attack that took place in Paris in November of 2015.  Around the time that Halévy made Meilhac's acquaintance, the works of parody and satire that he had been writing for Offenbach's theater fell out of fashion; this left him out of work and under contract for a vaudevillian piece that had been commissioned of him and another writer--that writer abruptly  left the collaboration and Halévy desperately needed to replace him.  This is where Henri Meilhac comes into the picture.  Just by chance, the two men met on the steps of a theater one day and Meilhac reportedly immediately took Halévy up on a proposal that they work together to finish this contracted piece.  As a duo, they became quite successful writing quaint farces and simple comedies; it is ironic then, that the work they are most famous for, Carmen, was a mere side project for them at the time of it's penning.  Also ironic, is that their second most well known work Froufrou is the rare serious drama.  It is these two works that became the basis of the vast majority of silent films using their writings as source material.  His credits in this regard mirror exactly Meilhac's listed on this blog in March of last year. In all, 12  films were made from their work between 1907 and 1926 (11 of them credited). Historically speaking, two films dating from 1907 are the most important, as they both are early sound shorts; and they are both based on Carmen.  The first of these is a pretty well known early British sound short film of Carmen using Chronophone system and directed by Arthur Gilbert, a filmmaker associated with the sound apparatus in Britain (the film was produced by the British arm of the Gaumont film company from France, where the chronophone was invented).  The second film, also called Carmen (1907/II), was a more home-grown affair which was produced in France by Pathé and used a sound system called Cine-Phono, which may have been an apparatus similar to the chronophone which allowed for sound syncopation to a pressed vinyl record.  The second of these may have only been the musical portion of Carmen and may not have actually included lyrics.  The first time Carmen was produced as an actual "silent" film came in 1914 with a joint Spanish and Italian production.  That same year Frou Frou was filmed for the first time; this time the production was an American one--the film was made in conjunction with Thanhouser and Mutual distributed it theatrically.  The next time his and Meilhac's work made it's way into a sound film came in 1931 with a filmed performance of Die Fledermaus, which was a released on Christmas day of that year in Germany.  A performance of Carmen premiered on television for the first time in a closed-circuit broadcast in 1952 to select theaters here in the United States; and the French series Airs de France broadcast Le petit duc as a musical in 1960.  Most recently, Carmen was filmed in Austria and packaged as Bregenzer Festspiele 2017: Carmen this past year.  As a solo writer, Halévy produced books of fiction that brought him a fair amount of personal notoriety as a writer of novels and earned him election to the prestigious Académie française in 1884 at the age of 50.  A few films have been produced using his novels as source material, with one silent film produced in 1916 by Universal, that was based on his novel L'Abbé Constantin and titled Bettina Loved A Soldier.  Halévy spent most of the rest of his life attending to his memberships in various literary academies in Paris that he had been elected a member of.  He died on the 8th of May in 1908 in Paris at the age of 74, one year after the two early sound films of his and Meilhac's opera had been released. Both his uncle and his writing partner are interred in Paris' famous Montmartre cemetery, so it seems reasonable to assume that if he was buried or entombed at all, that he would be there; but alas I can find no information regarding his resting place.  






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